Life goes on

For seniors coping with medical traumas, staying focused on the positives is what keeps them moving forward

Worn+out+after+undergoing+another+medical+procedure%2C+Jade+Bowen+returns+to+her+hospital+room.+Bowen+was+diagnosed+with+leukemia+last+June+and+received+a+stem+cell+transplant+in+November.+She+is+now+cancer+free%2C+but+the+preparation+for+the+transplant+left+her+with+acute+kidney+failure.

Tina Dang

Worn out after undergoing another medical procedure, Jade Bowen returns to her hospital room. Bowen was diagnosed with leukemia last June and received a stem cell transplant in November. She is now cancer free, but the preparation for the transplant left her with acute kidney failure.

The world hasn’t stop spinning for the families of Jade Bowen and Phong Ton, two Cleveland seniors dealing with medical traumas. Life goes on around them, even as they face some of the toughest obstacles of their lives. But they aren’t just letting life pass them by; they are active participants in their fight to regain a sense of  normalcy. This is the final story in our series as The Journal documents their road to recovery.

Emotionally drained as she retells her daughter’s story, Kari Child’s sheds a tear while explaining what she’s learned from her daughter Jade Bowen’s bout with leukemia. “I learned that Jade has a lot of perseverance. She’s a strong girl; she’s not going to give up. I’m not going to give up either.”
Tina Dang
Emotionally drained as she retells her daughter’s story, Kari Child’s sheds a tear while explaining what she’s learned from her daughter Jade Bowen’s bout with leukemia. “I learned that Jade has a lot of perseverance. She’s a strong girl; she’s not going to give up. I’m not going to give up either.”

On a sunny, Monday afternoon, Jade Bowen’s mother, Kari Childs, sits in wait for her daughter to return from yet another procedure. Bright, fluorescent lights fill Bowen’s hospital room as her nurses wheel her into the room. She is groggy, her voice faint and her eyes dreary from another exhausting day in the hospital. Still, the hope inside of her burns on.

Bowen’s battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia was long and grueling. Just as much as she has struggled with her cancer-stricken body, Childs has struggled with her own frayed emotions. There were times when they both wanted to give up, but they didn’t.

Bowen’s life appeared to take a turn for the better. After a successful stem cell transplant on Nov. 12, she finally triumphed over cancer. Despite her victory, Bowen’s everyday life has yet to return to its former peaceful state. The ramifications from her treatment resulted in her being diagnosed with acute kidney failure.

Bowen’s schedule is taxing. It consists of four-hour-long dialysis sessions, physical and occupational therapy and rehabilitation to help jump-start her mobility. Bowen lost most of her muscle mass after being intubated for two weeks. She is now unable to walk on her own.

“It’s not over yet,” Childs said. “It’s more important to fight now for her – because it’s not over … It just seems like it’s never-ending, but it will come to an end. I believe that Jade will be victorious and able to walk.”

Jade Bowen has undergone numerous courses of treatment, including chemotherapy and dialysis, which have ravaged her body. Her skin is now covered in dark spots and bruises.
Tina Dang
Jade Bowen has undergone numerous courses of treatment, including chemotherapy and dialysis, which have ravaged her body. Her skin is now covered in dark spots and bruises.

As the world turns

While time seems to be standing still for Bowen, life goes on outside the hallways of Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she’s been since last June. Beyond the hospital room, the battle is much more than a fight for her health.

Bowen’s road to recovery has had a substantial effect on her family’s finances. Childs doesn’t work and stays at the hospital with her daughter everyday, whereas Eddie Bowen, Jade’s father, works to keep things running smoothly for the family. Eddie’s job benefits include medical insurance, which helps cover Jade’s medical expenses. But even with insurance, the cost of Jade’s medical care reaches far beyond the wallet.

Eddie has been taking care of Jade’s younger brothers, Xavier and Shiloh; Childs’ two-year old son is staying in California with her sister during this time.

“[Eddie’s] taking care of our boys together and getting them places,” Childs said. “It’s really tough because I’m used to holding it down, but right now I’m not able to, and I exhaust my resources every day.”

Childs is able to sustain thanks to the generosity of friends and family, who have helped by buying groceries and filling her gas tank.

Senior Phong Ton sits in his room on Feb. 5 as he shares what his life is like since becoming paralyzed last May. “I appreciate life a lot more … I try not to take things for granted.”

Keeping a positive outlook

This type of financial burden is commonplace when families are facing hardships brought on by unexpected medical bills. The families of Bowen and Phong Ton, another senior who is fighting his way through a trauma, have a long road ahead of them. The recovery won’t be limited to finances either. Everyone involved will have to mentally prepare for the changes that may be here to stay.

Both Bowen and Ton are trying to keep a positive outlook on their situations. Bowen and her family are looking forward to a trip to the Bahamas, which was recently granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Her social worker helped her through the application process. The trip includes swimming with dolphins, which has always been one of Bowen’s aspirations.

Though Bowen is frail, Childs catches glimpses of her daughter’s fierce personality.

“She’s been really fighting; she’s fighting even harder now than she was before.”

New attitude

As he approaches a year since his life-changing accident, Ton is unsure of where his recovery will take him. When asked what his plans are for the future, he only has one thing on the horizon.

“Hopefully graduate … that’s all I have right now,” Ton admitted. He is leaving Cleveland for the time being and moving towards online classes, which will hopefully provide a more flexible schedule so that he can go to one of the colleges to which he has applied. Which one he’ll be able to attend is still unclear.

On top of this ambiguity surrounding school, Ton is still unsure if he’ll ever walk again. While this may seem bleak, he doesn’t see it that way.

“When I first woke up in the hospital, they told me I wasn’t going to,” he said. “Throughout my rehab and treatment they were like ‘Oh, this looks promising,’ but they’re not gonna guarantee anything.”

Ton remains hopeful but is ready if he doesn’t regain mobility in his legs.

“If I don’t, I don’t think I’ll be let down; I think being alive is good enough.”

This attitude is new for the teen who admitted a year ago he might not have said the same thing.

“Before the accident, I did the bare minimum,” said Ton. “My mom used to tell me to take out the trash, and I wouldn’t take out the trash … If I was able to walk again I’d love to take out the trash because I know what it’s like not being able to move around.”

Growing up fast

Senior Phong Ton was left paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident last May on Interstate 5. Once hopeful he would walk again, Ton is coming to grips with the fact that he may never regain his mobility.
Brandon Tabasan
Senior Phong Ton was left paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident last May on Interstate 5. Once hopeful he would walk again, Ton is coming to grips with the fact that he may never regain his mobility.

Ton had to mature very quickly following the accident in order to come to terms with the way his life had changed, and while some people might’ve buckled under this pressure, he’s not entirely out of the game.

“Honestly, this accident has benefitted me in a lot of ways. The only thing is all the physical stuff,” Ton said. “I appreciate life a lot more, and not to sound corny, but I try not to take things for granted.”

The road to this mentality has been understandably difficult. Ton’s wheelchair is big and bulky, which attracts a lot of attention. Physically, his frame is much smaller since his muscles atrophied. Despite the fact that Ton’s life took a momentous shift last May, everything else continued on around him. Catching up has been hard. When asked what his biggest challenge has been, Ton had to think.

“Opening up,” he said. “I think when the accident happened I kind of went into a shell … Obviously this chair is really big and I’m already attracting enough attention. Adults look at me like there’s something wrong with my head, and then I’m like a social time bomb that’s waiting to go off. Everybody looks at me like ‘oh is this kid gonna start drooling?’ or ‘is this kid gonna start screaming?’… It’s just like man, people are so judgmental.”

Ton has been left with very little to combat this, but it no longer affects his outlook on life. He’s decided not to let other people’s opinions deter his mood. When asked what his advice for others was, Ton replied with humor and humility.

“[Expletive] sucks dude. It’s hard, but at least you’re not dead,” Ton laughed. “That’s my only advice.”

Life goes on

What happened to Phong Ton and Jade Bowen is not uncommon. Every day, all around the world, lives are interrupted. People are unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer, lose their ability to walk, suffer through financial setbacks or worse, lose a loved one. While Ton and Bowen can call themselves “survivors,” and are surrounded by plenty of supporters, there is no denying that their road to recovery will be long and full of more unforeseen hurdles. Their journey is just beginning, but both of them are ready for whatever life throws their way.